Submitted by: Jenny
My experience started, like many others, one week after my missed period. I was 5 weeks pregnant with my boyfriend of four years. I am 33, employed, a cat mom, but not settled in life where I want to be. After seeking options and education from Planned Parenthood, we mutually decided to get an abortion.
I was scheduled for a medication abortion about two weeks later, at week 7. I was nervous about what was to happen and what my experience would be like. I read hundreds of testimonials online from other women to put my mind at ease. The entire appointment lasted about three hours. We paid $700 up front for the service.
I was first called back alone for a urine sample and a vaginal ultrasound. The technician asked if I wanted to see the pictures or want to know if there were multiples. I said yes. It was just one embryo and didn’t look like anything other than a jelly bean on the picture. It was quick, only about 1-2 minutes and did not hurt.
Next, I was brought into a counseling session where I was asked if I was there on my own free will and a few other medical questions. Then, they allowed my boyfriend to come back. They walked us both through what was to happen, when it would happen, what it would look like, and emergency information. She took a blood sample from a finger poke which didn’t hurt.
Next, a physician came in. Asked if I had any other questions. I was most concerned about the tissue and what to do with it. She said, it was so early, I wouldn’t see anything. I then took the first pill there in the office and she sent us on our way with the other medications. All were clearly marked for pain, cramps, nausea, and abortion. I felt confident, prepared, and I rested that night not feeling any changes to my body.
Exactly 24 hours later, I took the second dose of abortion pills, two in each side of my cheeks. They dissolved for 30 minutes and I swallowed the rest. They didn’t taste like anything, mostly like cardboard. Then I waited. I stayed on top of pain medications never knowing when the cramps would kick in. It took four hours before I felt my first moderate cramp, pain level 4. It came with some bleeding that looked like my normal period. 30 minutes later, the cramps became intense and bleeding was heavy. I don’t get period cramps so pain level at this point was an 8-9. These cramps remained strong, reaching pain level 10… even 11 at times (at which I broke into tears and my boyfriend had to carry me to the bathroom). I found some relief sitting on the toilet. There I passed a large clot. I didn’t feel it coming out, it didn’t hurt, it just plopped out. It was mostly flat, about the depth of a pancake and the circumference of a lime. There was so much blood, I couldn’t tell what it was, if it had any pregnancy tissue, or if it was tissue from the sides of my uterus. It was just a dark, red, blob.
After 4.5 hours of intense cramps, fluctuating temperature (I ended up with my top off while my boyfriend held an ice pack on the back of my neck), writhing in pain on the couch with a heat compress on my abdomen, the cramps finally started to cease. Cramps continued for the next 5 hours, but much more mild and spread out. Pain level 3-4. I assumed the clot from earlier was the pregnancy, and the worst of it was over. Some relief.
For the next 5 days, I bled. It was fresh blood, like the first day of your period. I also felt BLAH, like I came down with the flu. Food was not appetizing, I was severely constipated, and I was nauseous. Finally on day 6, my body caught up and I found major relief from pregnancy constipation and the bleeding trailed off and was mostly spotty.
Early day 7, intense cramping woke me up from sleep. I was bleeding heavily again with fresh blood. I sat on the toilet where I passed a large clot, bigger than before. It was about the depth of a pancake, but the circumference of a lemon. Pain level 7-8. 30 minutes later, I passed a second clot just slightly smaller. 30 minutes after that, the bleeding became lighter and the cramping had dissipated. Day 8, the same thing happened when I was woken up by cramps, and passed one more clot.
Instantly, I felt like I turned a corner. Bleeding became lighter and lighter and essentially stopped by day 12. I finally felt like the old me, no pain, no flu symptoms, I had energy, I felt great, and I felt RELIEF.
Day 14, exactly two weeks after taking the first pill, I went back to PP for my follow up ultrasound. I assumed it would be routine, I even told my boyfriend not to come because it would be easy (though he didn’t listen). I did a urine sample and went to the ultrasound room. We chatted as she began my vaginal scan and quickly became quiet. It lasted longer than my previous scan and the she said “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re still pregnant.”
After asking if she was joking, if it was just tissue, was their a heartbeat?, looking over every ultrasound picture, and about one million other questions, I was in disbelief. It was like starting from the beginning, back at week 5. Just complete disbelief. I wouldn’t have believed her if I didn’t see the scans.
PP physicians explained it was extremely rare, between 2-6%. They weren’t allowed to say there was a heartbeat, but they confirmed, it appeared there was cardiac movement. They explained there isn’t much research on what abortion drugs can do to a developing embryo but their suggestion was to schedule a surgical abortion. This tore me up. I couldn’t find one testimonial online that was directly relatable to my situation. I felt like it was 50:50 odds. Maybe I do want to have this baby? Is it fair to bring a child into this world who will have a lifetime of struggles from birth defects? Those and every other scenario played in my head for the next week. After much debate, we decided a surgical abortion was the best thing to do for our situation.
My surgical abortion was scheduled one week later, now at nearly 11 weeks. PP covered the cost of my surgical procedure because of my first, failed abortion. This was a huge weight off my shoulders because the procedure was $1,500.
I was first brought back alone for a counseling session, then my boyfriend joined, they walked us both through the procedure. They took another blood sample from a finger poke. Then I went back to the waiting room until they called my name.
I was beyond terrified. I felt alone. I cried the entire appointment. My boyfriend was there for support, but it wasn’t the same as from a woman. What I needed was support from women. The women who had gone down this same path. I needed to hear the stories of women in my situation.
Soon, I was called back by a man who took me to the recovery room. There, he started a type of IV. It stung. It had a piece of plastic connected where they can insert drugs/draw blood. He had me take an ibuprofen, antibiotic, and then an anti-nausea pill under my tongue. He then assigned me my chair in the recovery room. It had some curtains but not 100% private. There were multiple women in there who just came out of surgery, in various states of consciousness. It was like an assembly line, being handed off from person to person. It felt very impersonal. I felt horrible for the younger girl next to me, who had to be at least 15 years younger, and who must be as terrified as me.
I sat in my chair, crying and shaking, for the next 20 minutes. Then a nurse met me at my chair and walked me to my surgery room. I was trembling so hard she closed to the door to the room, and gave me the biggest mom hug you could ask for. She allowed me to cry on her shoulder and she assured me she, herself, would be there from start to finish. She had me undress from the waist down and sit on the table. She also had me put a preemptive pad in my underwear. The table looked like a normal OBGYN table, except the stirrups were higher, and for your knees. The abortion equipment was covered by paper cloths and all surgical tools were wrapped as well. I found comfort in not seeing surgical tools. The room had a bug surgical light on the ceiling, but other than that, it appeared like a normal office, just bigger. A second nurse helped position me on the table. Before laying me back, she gave me a huge hug and looked me in the eyes to tell me they will take great care of me and she won’t leave my side. She assured me the male anesthesiologist would not see any part of my body and would remain at my head. She strapped my knees into the stir-ups and explained it was just like seatbelts in case I twitch. She then covered me with a paper blanket. At this point, I’m sitting on the bed, butt at the bottom of the table, and legs in the air as if I were sitting in a chair. It slightly helped for me that they had music playing in the room and it seemed less scary.
Next, the anesthesiologist entered the room. He was very matter of fact. I was shaking so much he immediately gave me an injection through my IV port to “take the edge off.” I don’t know if it made a difference but I appreciated it. He then asked if I wanted to be fully out or just drowsy. I chose fully sedated, 100% lights out. He then explained the three sensors he attached to my upper chest and side to monitor my vitals. He put a sensor on my finger and oxygen through a tube on my nose. None of this hurt.
Next the surgeon came in, introduced herself and asked if I had any questions. I said no and she said “okay, we will get started.” I just stared at the ceiling and didn’t look as the anesthesiologist administered two more injections into my port. He told me to start taking deep breaths through my nose. I remember the second nurse putting her hand on my leg as this was happening. Any human touch felt comforting. I remember three breaths before falling asleep.
The next thing I recall was the two nurses sitting me up on the bed. The first nurse had put on my panties and leggings for me. I vaguely recall the vacuum machine being turned off. I had NO PAIN, I was extremely groggy but I knew I didn’t feel bad. I recall saying thank you to the staff still in the surgical room. The nurses walked me back to recovery with my eyes closed and sat me down in my chair. It was suddenly very bright and I grabbed sunglasses from my purse and put them on. A new recovery nurse asked if I wanted juice, water, saltines or graham crackers. I didn’t care, I wanted to sleep. I was more concerned if she could kick back my chair like a recliner. She put a heating pad on my abdomen while I dozed. From getting up from my chair to go to surgery to coming back to recovery was about 20 minutes total. I was no longer trembling, scared, or panicked.
About 10 minutes later, the IV nurse took a blood sample from my port. I was groggy I didn’t care and didn’t feel it. I was the only woman in the recovery room who had a blood draw. 20 minutes later, the recovery nurse asked me to get up and go to the bathroom. It felt similar to waking up in the middle of the night and having to go to the bathroom. Still groggy, but a little more with it. There, I passed a decent sized clot and was bleeding a moderate amount. I went back to my chair and rested my eyes.
At this point in recovery, other women were allowed to leave. Considering my failed abortion, a nurse said they needed to do additional tests for me. She helped me put on shoes and walked me to an ultrasound room.
A lead surgeon also attended the ultrasound and later, my abortion surgeon also asked to join the review. All three reviewed the scan as I bled all over the table and floor. They were not phased at all and said their only concern was my health. They checked and rechecked the scan quietly, which had me concerned. I thought for sure it didn’t work and I was going to have to go back into surgery. Finally, the lead surgeon said the scan appeared clear.
She then sat down in front of me and explained they had one more complication in my case. Both surgeons reviewed my tissue after the abortion and it was odd. She said there was “a lot of pregnancy tissue but the embryo was not normal.” She told me the embryo had died. She estimated it died at least one week prior, but sometime after my ultrasound one week prior. Had I not had a surgical abortion, she said it was likely I would have miscarried but it came with risks of going septic, especially since my body wasn’t able to expel tissue the first go around.
She ordered my bloodwork and asked me to come back one week post-op for a blood draw. I was then allowed to clean myself, put my pants on, and leave.
I felt nothing leaving, maybe due to the drugs, but I just felt empty. Physically, I felt no pain. That part was remarkable in my mind. My total appointment lasted 2 hours 45 minutes.
I put on fresh sheets before I left that morning, and nothing felt better than coming home, putting on pajamas, and climbing into bed. I rested the rest of the day with very minimal pain. It wasn’t even pain, it was just sore muscles, like I worked out really hard. I still took Ibuprofen as a precaution.
I am now on day 2 post surgical abortion. I’m still bleeding but have no pain, just sore. Bleeding is light to moderate, like a normal period. I only really expel blood when standing or sitting on the toilet.
Emotionally, surgical abortion was overwhelming. Physically, it was without a doubt less painful. That being said, before, during, and after, I sobbed. I hyperventilated at times not knowing exactly what was upsetting me. My emotions ranged from sadness, guilt, shame, feeling like my privacy was gone, being irresponsible, lonely and stupid. Mostly, sadness. I felt no sense of relief like I did with a medication abortion.
My hope is that by sharing my story, someone can find comfort in this, much like the big, mom-like hug I received from my nurse before my surgery. If it helps one person, it would greatly relieve the pain I feel. Seeing words of encouragement from other women has helped me feel like I’m not alone. Someone, somewhere out in the world, is rooting for you. You can do this. I am with you.